My health experience - Kevin Sheedy: I am pinching myself sometimes as to whether it happened

 Kevin Sheedy:  ‘I’ve adapted my coaching style very slightly but nothing has changed really.’ Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Kevin Sheedy: ‘I’ve adapted my coaching style very slightly but nothing has changed really.’ Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images


Sheedy, 53, played 46 times for Ireland and was one of the stars of the 1990 World Cup finals campaign. He is now the Youth team manager with Everton.

I lost my mother to bowel cancer three years ago and my father is in remission now having had an operation for the same condition seven years ago so I suppose I was a likely candidate to have a run-in with it myself at some stage.

Still, having been a sports person, always having had a healthy enough diet, never having smoked or been a heavy drinker, I thought maybe I’d escape and so it took an ad campaign on television and radio last year for the penny to drop with me.

It was the end of June and there were big ads running saying that if you had a change in your bowel habits, if your poo was a lot looser or if you were passing blood in it, then go see your GP.

Well, I was on the loo all the time around then and one day it just struck me: “This is me.” I had all the symptoms so I went more or less straight away.

Initially things looked good. The blood test came back clear and the stool sample was okay but the doctor said he’d send me for a camera test just to rule things out. That’s probably what saved my life.

They detected the tumour straight away. It was a really scary moment. I’d had a letter beforehand saying that if they needed to take tissue samples, they would. When I had the camera inside me I could see what was going on and it became clear that that was what they were doing; it was like they were excavating, taking loads and loads of tissue.

Alarm bells start
I was lying there and I could see my insides and I could see them taking tissue samples and suddenly I’m really aware that I have got something and the panic sets in, the alarm bells start.

I went into a waiting room and I remember that one by one the other people in my group were being called out and leaving. The next group of people came in and then one by one they left. At that stage I was fearing the worst.

When I was called in to see the specialist and head nurse, I just knew the minute I walked into the room that it was bad news, you can’t hide it, and sure enough they said that they had detected a tumour.

I didn’t really listen to anything else. It was all going over my head really while my wife, Joanne, asked some questions but I did sort of hear them saying, “If you’re going to get it, you’ve got it in a good place.” And that was something for me to cling on to.

I’m a pretty positive person generally and I took heart too from the fact they didn’t rush me in. It was a couple of weeks before I had the operation and so I went back to work and just tried to get on with things. I was glad to be occupied although every now and again my mind would wander.

I had the operation in Aintree hospital where the staff were tremendous, explaining everything and providing a lot of reassurance.

I was measured up beforehand for where they were going to put a bag in and I was told about the possibility of radiotherapy, the possibility of chemotherapy . . . but until they actually did the operation they weren’t able to tell for sure what they would have to do.

It wasn’t until I woke up that the surgeon came in and told me that they had removed the tumour without breaking through the wall. They hadn’t found anything else but they wanted to do some tests on what they’d removed.

Later they told me the tumour had probably been growing there for nine years; I couldn’t believe it.

I didn’t need any radiotherapy. I didn’t need any chemotherapy. I didn’t need a bag. So everything came out 100 per cent positive.

The surgeon said that I was probably looking at two to three months before I’d be able to start back at work and basically I was in hospital for another two to three days, just walking up and down the ward.

They won’t let you out until you’ve gone to the toilet, so to speak. Once I was able to do that then I was able to go home. I had the stitches out the following week and then had about two months of recovery, just basically staying in the house. I didn’t get about much but friends called around to keep my spirits up and it seemed next to no time that I was back in work.

Light duties
I started back on light duties, just watching the training and that, then eased my way back into it. I’ve adapted my coaching style very slightly but nothing has changed really.

I’m still out there coaching the players which is what I love doing. I’ve been very fortunate that it hasn’t affected me at all. I’m still able to do my job. In fact, it all seems a bit surreal now, it went that smoothly. I’m pinching myself sometimes as to whether it really happened.

I had a test just before Christmas and another a couple of months ago and they’ve all come back clear. I’ll be having an MRI scan 12 months after the operation so that’ll be coming up in the not-too-distant future but so far it’s all going remarkably well.

I’m doing some awareness work now for a couple of different bowel cancer charities to make people more aware. I received a letter from a lady to thank me for an article that I did that made her husband go to his GP after realising that he had the same symptoms that I was talking about.

I was delighted. I know from experience now how important making that first move is.

In conversation with Emmet Malone